Johnson Drive issues divide Mission council; funding increase rejected

Mission Mayor Laura McConwell welcomed new city administrator Gerry Vernon after unanimous council approval.

Mission’s Johnson Drive rehabilitation hit some speed bumps Wednesday when the city council refused to support a revised spending plan for the project. An attempt to repeal an April authorization to use eminent domain for right-of-way acquisition failed, but three council members supported the repeal.

A unanimous approval of Gerry Vernon as city administrator was a respite in a night of divided votes. Vernon attended with several family members.
More negative votes came when the council approved payments to 23 property owners along Johnson Drive who have agreed to accept the city offer for easements and right-of-way. Both Amy Miller and Jennifer Cowdry opposed. Miller was especially vocal about the parking for business owners who she says are objecting to the easements and the potential loss of the ability to restrict parking in front of their shops. She also questioned the variation between the two independent appraisals for the easements. The total payout for the 23 properties was $461,900. About 10 properties have not reached agreement yet.

Amy Miller led the charge to repeal use of eminent domain to acquire Johnson Drive easements.

Johnson Drive is scheduled to be rebuilt from building front to building front next year. The city found that it lacked public easements for street, sidewalk and parking areas. The easements do not involve the buildings, only the public space in front. Two appraisals are required because it is federally funded and the city must offer the higher of the two appraisals.

The city staff’s revised cost estimates for the combined Martway and Johnson Drive projects showed that easement acquisition had doubled from previous estimates, about a $500,000 increase. Will Vandenberg and Pat Quinn joined Cowdry and Miller in rejecting the increased funding resolution, which could mean revisions to the budget.

Miller also led the charge to repeal eminent domain, which the city could use to acquire easements if no agreement is reached. She advocated a guarantee that businesses can limit parking to their customers. Mayor Laura McConwell pointed out the city maintains the parking areas and handles snow removal, saying the easement is for the “greater good.” Councilor Lawrence Andre also said that if the city makes improvements on private property there should be a “charge back.”

Councilor David Shepard said the use of eminent domain is “uncomfortable for any public official,” but the project has been “years in the making.” Shepard said he wants the city to retain its authority to move forward and not allow “unreasonable objections” to stop its progress.